Special Reports

Crystal Brame’s father finds Congress slow to respond

WASHINGTON – More than two years after he promised his dying daughter that he would do something about domestic violence, Lane Judson is receiving a civics lesson in just how tough it can be to get Congress to act.

Crystal Judson Brame’s father wants Congress to withhold federal funding from police departments if they don’t have effective policies dealing with domestic violence by their officers.

So far, all Judson has gotten is a commitment from the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, will take a look at domestic violence involving law enforcement officers.

“I tell people I am not going away, I’m not going to give up,” Judson said recently from Gig Harbor.

Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot his wife in April 2003 in a Gig Harbor parking lot as their two young children watched from a nearby car. The chief then shot himself to death.

The couple were in the middle of a divorce. In court filings, Crystal Brame had accused her husband of domestic violence.

The shooting touched off a long-running scandal and multiple investigations, with Tacoma leaders facing accusations they ignored Brame’s deterioration, his sexual harassment of a subordinate and allegations of domestic violence. Last month, Crystal Brame’s family settled a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city for $12 million and promises to keep exploring who knew what and to improve policies guarding against domestic violence.

Washington’s congressional representatives say the promise of a GAO study is just a first step. Originally, they sought authorization for a broader Justice Department study and to clarify that certain federal grants to police departments could be used for internal domestic violence programs. A House committee blocked their effort.

The Judsons “are beginning to understand the wheels spin slowly back here,” said Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Bellevue), who confronted the issue of domestic violence among police officers when he was King County sheriff.

Reichert and Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks (Belfair), Adam Smith (Tacoma) and Jay Inslee (Bainbridge Island) have taken up Judson’s cause.

“This will take patience and persistence,” Smith said. “But there is no question that Lane Judson speaks with authority and experience on this issue.”

Judson recalls holding his daughter’s hand in the hospital and promising to do something to ensure no more wives of police officers would suffer as she had.

“It was a hard time,” he said. “She couldn’t talk, but we knew she could hear. She would squeeze my hand. I told her ‘Crystal, I will do everything I can so this won’t happen again.’”

In the weeks after his daughter’s death, Judson started to outline in his mind federal legislation he called the “Crystal Clear Act,” and he began to lobby members of the state’s congressional delegation.

At the same time, Judson lobbied state legislators for a measure that would require law enforcement agencies to deal with domestic abuse involving their officers.

The state Legislature acted, but Congress has been slower to respond.

One problem: In the post-9/11 environment, lawmakers are reluctant to threaten cuts in police funding.

“I would hate to cut off their money,” Dicks said. “I hope we can get them to do it because it is the right thing to do. We are not giving up on this. We are trying to get a start.”

Dicks said he would prefer legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to set up domestic violence programs. And if they don’t, Dicks said Congress would have to consider the next step.

Smith and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Seattle) agreed that cutting police funding would be difficult. Both said they’d prefer to offer incentives.

“We could end up cutting grants for first responders and if we cut these grants, that could cost lives,” Smith said. “I’m hoping for more of a carrot approach.”

Reichert said some lawmakers believe the issue of domestic violence involving police officers is best be left to the states.

The lawmakers all pledged to keep working until the issue is addressed.

“It is a long-term effort,” said Inslee, who was a prosecutor in Selah, Yakima County, in the 1970s and remembered how domestic violence cases were once thought of as a “private affair.”

Judson is determined to keep the pressure on. More than 4,000 letters supporting congressional action soon will be headed to the states’ congressional delegation.

When he started out, Judson said he thought there was less than a 5 percent chance that Congress would do something. He now puts the chances at between 10 percent and 15 percent.

“My goal is to make sure that no one ever feels like Crystal, with nowhere to turn,” he said.

Les Blumenthal: 202-383-0008